Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: Southwold Jack

This fellow is the chap you will find on the front of bottles of Adnams. He is Southwold Jack dressed, if you should be concerned with such matters, in the uniform of Yorkist soldier.

The pictured statue stands guard over an Adnams building in the Suffolk town (I was there last week and, while I'm sure it is intolerable in the height of the summer when half the tossers in north London descend on the place, in late September it isn't half bad - for one thing Adnams is so much to the fore that the whole place smells like a freshly poured pint.)

Anyhow, you probably no more need me to convince you of the charms of the Suffolk coast than you need convincing of the merits of Adnams ales. However, should you find yourself in that area, do pay a visit to the handsome church of St Edmund. There you will see an earlier (the original?) statute of Southwold Jack; note his unshaven and red-eyed appearance. He makes a gratifyingly honest - and convincing - mascot for a brewery. The pie-eyed look of the fellow above does a similar job too.


Thursday, September 24, 2009

The letter I

Here's a story that has virtually all the elements you could want: gambling, hookers, the mafia, royalty and – that rarest of things – an Italian sex and bribery scandal that does not involve Silvio Berlusconi. All that's missing is a few Nazis and you'd have the perfect newspaper story.

The son of Italy's last king is to stand trial on charges connected to the alleged recruitment of prostitutes for a casino and the rigging of slot machines.

The House of Savoy might well be equipped to lead Italy in the modern era, after all.

But here's the curious thing; every country that has a name that starts with the letter "i" has its banana-republic elements (at least, Iran and Iraq are worse). There's Ireland, the land of Haughey, a wide assortment of gombeens, sleveens, cute hoors and, well, Fianna Fáil (itself founded by a chap who managed to rip off a group of Irish Americans and the plain people of Ireland in setting up the family business). India's survival as democracy is something of a triumph - but one in four members of parliament is facing criminal charges.

Then there is Israel. A couple of former cabinet ministers were jailed last month, the former president is accused of rape, the foreign minister is under investigation for suspected tax evasion and money laundering. Oh, and the former PM is going on trial for fraud tomorrow.

This detail struck me.

Among charities [Ehud Olmert] is accused of double-billing were the Simon Weisenthal Centre, the Yad Vashem Holocaust museum and the World Jewish Congress, according to the Ha'aretz newspaper.

Now, I don't claim to be an expert in Israeli society and politics, but I would have thought that defrauding the national Holocaust memorial charity was thought of thing Israeli society would take an especially dim view of, especially if you are PM.

Anyway, what it is about countries beginning with "i"? In all these cases it's hard to avoid the view that the Scandinavians might have managed things in a better (if less flamboyantly entertaining) manner. Expect some stonking great scandal from the Isle of Man some day.

Labels: , ,

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: in defence of the drunkard

The growing pursed lipped and priggish tendency in public life is one that frowns on any displays of public intoxication. A great pity as a truly spectacular display of pie-eyed incoherence or shambolic hopelessness is one of the great joys of life.

In standing up for those who put themselves in a state where standing up is difficult that's not to say I endorse the more oafish forms of drunkenness: aggression, vomit and broken glass aren't especially interesting after all. But for all that, even a boorish and tiresome drunk - of the Ollie Reed variety, for instance - provides a rich vein of comedy for all those who don't have to deal with them directly. (Reed's chat show appearances will show you what I mean).

Two news stories from the past week illustrate the point nicely. There was the court appearance of Clare Irby, a distant cousin of the Guinness family that has done so much to bring civility of joy to the Irish nation, who was accused a drunkenly cavorting (a fine word, I wish we had cause to use it more often) with a man she had met on a plane. Rather splendidly, she was cleared of being drunk on a plane because the court ruled that the prosecutors had to prove she was still half cut when the flight had entered British airspace. Since the cavorting had happened earlier in the flight, she was cleared. It's the least she deserved for the joy she had brought to newsrooms across Fleet Street. (Helped, as Rowan Pelling astutely observes, by our love of posh totty behaving badly).

Then there was the story of Boris Yeltsin's trip to Washington. The mental image of the President of Russia "a few hundred feet from the White House clad only in his underwear and trying to hail a cab — because, he explained, he wanted a pizza" is the fable of the emperor's new clothes for grown-ups with a proper sense of the absurd.

Even the fact that this was a man who controlled nuclear weapons (I'm sure they gave him a placebo red button to press in his cups) is much less alarming than the fact that his successor was such a whey faced little puritan. The new president even is trying to get the Russians to stop drinking vodka altogether. No good will come of it.


Monday, September 21, 2009

Old school ties

There was a time when the public school ethos was rather dismissive of "trade" and the institutions themselves would have hautily rejected any idea that they were businesses. No more; now the places are busily turning themselves into franchises and opening branches — in many places replicating the full public school experience down to the silly uniforms and school songs across the Far East.

Since Harrow first took the plunge back in 1998 by opening a branch in Thailand, other English public schools have either followed suit or been seriously tempted. The famous Harrovian boaters may have looked out of place in downtown Bangkok but, educationally, the model worked.

Many East Asian countries are, rather like the schools themselves, endlessly fascinating to outsiders, but much stereotyped - in some cases even rather unfairly. So in that spirit, one might observe that it is unclear whether that part of the world really needs more institutions that love hierarchies, deference, arcane and bizarre rituals, cruelty and recherché sexual habits.

But there is another curious aspect to it; as the Telegraph article linked to notes, that while these institutions might be widely admired by the super-wealthy, the English education system as a whole is not widely regarded as a great model for everyone else to follow.

In this there is a curious parallel with the American health care system. I can't claim to have followed every twist in the current debate there, but I have noted that many defenders of the status quo in the US cite the fact that wealthy foreigners are often willing to pay for the best facilities America can offer proves the superiority of their own system.

I'm not sure many people in Britain would use a similar logic to resist changes to the educational system - we can all the absurdity of that logic, right? And yet a great many people who can spot the unfairness in the American health system from their vantage point on the other side of the Atlantic are quite happy to encourage a divisive and inequitable education system back home.

Labels: ,

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Trollied Tuesday: In memoriam the two Keiths

To cook well is good; to do so in way that others can learn to follow is better; to do so while getting progressively more sloshed on red wine is best of all.

It is thanks to Keith Floyd that I learned this best way to cook: with a glass of wine to hand to progressively enhance the senses as the dish is prepared. In this style of cookery, the journey itself is as important as the destination.

If you care about these matters, and you should, there's a rather neat journalistic distinction between a bon viveur (it is short-hand for raging pisshead) and a bon vivant. It is a rare, and impressive feat, to combine the two qualities. As the Telegraph obit puts it:

With craggy good looks, slightly askew bow tie and upper class tones gravelled by a prodigious smoking habit, Floyd had something of the roguish charm of a 1950s chancer about him. This was not an altogether misleading image as his four wives, most several decades his junior, might attest.

Note too the rather sad irony that Floyd died of a heart attack shortly after being treated for cancer. There was also an ill-timed, but amusing vignette in the Sun:

Docs opened him up for surgery after a lifetime of drunken mayhem and his liver was perfect despite having seen enough booze to float an air-craft carrier.

UPDATE: On this theme, it would be quite wrong of me to overlook Keith Waterhouse - a man who would have appreciated the bon viveur/vivant distinction. An archetype of the old Fleet Street hack; a man whose whole oeuvre was boozy conversation.

Despite listing "lunch" as his only recreation in Who's Who, Waterhouse's output was staggering. As well as the columns, there was his novel and film Billy Liar, and Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell, the play based on the excuse for the non-appearance in print of an equally heroic luncher. He also wrote scores more novels and scripts, and speeches for politicians including Hugh Gaitskell and Harold Wilson.

That's what Labour needs: a leader who while appreciate a bit of literate louche style, none of this management speak and censorious hectoring in future. Please.


Friday, September 11, 2009

Making a mountain out of a Mo-hill

The news that the name Mohammed is now one of the most popular boys names in England and Wales - if you include all the variant spellings as one - has been greeted with predictable shrieks of alarm in some quarters.

Max Hastings in the Mail being as good an example of predictability as any I suppose, fulminates against a "shabby conspiracy" to compile statistics one way rather than another. But then we get to the meat of the argument:

The Muslim population is now close to two million, over 3 per cent, and rising fast because Muslim families have more children than most of the rest of us, many of them named Mohammed or Muhammed.

Labels: ,

Friday, September 04, 2009

Life imitates art

One of the best gags from The Thick of It came from a harassed Daily Mail night editor being messed around by the source of his front page splash: "It's not like we're the Independent. We can't just stick a headline saying 'Cruelty', and then stick a picture of a dolphin or a whale underneath. That's just cheating... it's rubbish".*

This is the front page of the Indie on Saturday September 5.

*NB: That scene wasn't a strictly accurate representation of how newspapers are put together. But it damn well got to the heart of what life is like in the engine room of journalism.